Drunken driving dilemmaNo progress has been made in Korea in terms of drunken driving. No matter how hard the police have tried to strengthen crackdowns on it, the practice has not decreased.
The number of drunken driving deaths last year totalled 1,009, and 27,782 traffic accidents nationwide involved a driver who was drunk. Both figures are up from the previous year, with 40 more deaths and 909 more accidents. Innocent citizens are indiscriminately exposed to this risk.
In this vein, a drunken driver is a potential murderer. Drunken driving deprives another person of their life or happiness. Roughly 26 million people nationwide have driver’s licenses, which amounts to more than half of the entire population. But the number of drunken drivers caught last year was 328,000, the equivalent of about 13 out of every 1,000 motorists. More drivers are getting tagged for more than one instance of drunken driving. The number of drunken drivers caught two or more times was 108,583 in 2008. Among them, drunken drivers spotted more than three times amounted to 32.5 percent.
Drunken driving is a habit, rather than a temporarily ill-advised display of bravery or reckless bravado. In such an atmosphere, police officers engaged in surveillance are faced with an ordeal.
One police officer was killed and 78 were hurt while cracking down on drunk drivers last year. It is extremely urgent for us to formulate effective measures to protect police officers against this unpredictable deadly weapon in the middle of the night.
Most of all, imposing an awfully light slap on the wrist for that sort of misconduct is a huge problem. The current law stipulates that a person found guilty of drunken driving shall be punished by imprisonment with prison labor for up to three years and a fine of up to 10 million won ($8,900). However, no one has actually been punished by receiving imprisonment with prison labor. Recently, a famous celebrity involved in a drunken hit-and-run crash was summarily indicted and handed a fine of 8 million won.
A steep fine, for sure. But not prison time.
A bill that would require frequent drunken drivers to have sensors installed on their cars that can detect their blood-alcohol levels was brought before the National Assembly last year.
This is one step, but it is not enough. Penalties must be toughened up to discourage folks from getting drunk and then getting behind the wheel of a car. In Japan, even drivers with blood alcohol levels below 0.005 percent are punished for drunken driving. In Malaysia, any person caught for drunken driving immediately goes to prison. Also, some countries impose the death penalty for repeat offenders. Perhaps that’s too strict. But the one way to avoid all this is to convince people not drive while impaired, for the sake of their own lives and everyone else’s.